France fear Messi factor

PARIS - Just as Diego Maradona was feared on the pitch, Lionel Messi will be the man to watch when France take on Argentina in a friendly on Wednesday.

The hype surrounding the match will be high as it is to be played at the Stade Velodrome, 20 years after Maradona almost joined Olympique Marseille from Napoli.

France coach Raymond Domenech, who usually does not say much about his team's opponents, is full of praise for Messi and his coach, Maradona.

"He has something exceptional," he said of Messi, who has scored 16 goals in 19 Primera Liga matches with Barcelona this season.

"We see what he's able to do with Barca but also with Argentina, he is able to turn a match around.

"We will face an outstanding player and we will see if we are able to compete at the highest level."

Domenech, who is banking on an impressive front line to rebuild his team following an embarrassing first-round exit at Euro 2008, admitted he was a great admirer of Maradona.

"I dreamed when I was watching him play, like everyone, even if I'm now facing him as a coach," he said.

"He is a young coach and I would be happy to bring him my experience," Domenech added with a cheeky grin.

Domenech made a last-minute addition to his defence by calling up experienced Olympique Lyon defender Jean-Alain Boumsong on Sunday.

However, if France are to prevail, they will have to prove their midfield and front line are better than Argentina's.

Yoann Gourcuff's form is a good sign for Les Bleus, who will also rely on Messi's team mate Thierry Henry and Lyon's Karim Benzema to find the back of the net.

For his second game in charge, Maradona has avoided major surprises and picked an almost identical squad to his first match against Scotland, which Argentina won 1-0.

Playmaker Juan Roman Riquelme has been left out, apparently so he could play for his club Boca Juniors in a league match on Sunday, and there is still no place for Inter Milan midfielder Esteban Cambiasso.

Midfielder Juan Sebastian Veron, who had been set to make only his second international appearance since the Copa America final against Brazil in 2007, has been ruled out after suffering a thigh muscle injury while playing for Estudiantes on Saturday.